Meeting Summary November 6, 2000

AFI Mark Goodson Screening Room
------Sponsored by ProMax------

Another MGLA meeting at AFI's Mark Goodson Screening Room where people were literally hanging off the rails! Gracious thanks to ProMax for sponsoring the event so admission was free, and for REALVIZ for making our meeting part of their Version 2.0 release tour, which added to how many were in attendance.

Our pre-meeting included our standard Q&A. Topics from the audience included mysterious crashing of a new G4, which most attendees attributed to questionable RAM. We also discussed the state of video formats, which are diverging thanks to the web and digital television.

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Our first presenter of the evening was Richard Dimaio plus several others from REALVIZ. They explained that the French company was started in 1998 by a group of artists who got together to create the types of tools that they would personally like to use. Their product line is currently a suite of four products: Image Modeler, Match Mover, Stitcher and ReTimer. They currently run under NT or Irix operating systems, although they've let it be known that the constant requests for MacOS versions during our meeting has had an impact on their Mac plans.

MatchMover is an impressive 3D camera tracker. It's designed to extract 3D camera positional data from a 2D scene by comparing and analyzing the parallax of user-defined points in the scene as the camera moves. It will accommodate off-screen points and occlusion. When finished, a 3D "point cloud" is created which defines the position of camera used to film the scene. This can then be exported to a 3D application where you can integrate 3D elements into the 2D scene.

ReTimer is a 2D tool for changing the time of a movie. By mapping the vectors of each pixel the software creates intermediate images between existing frames. The method allows you to effectively slow down (or speed up) a movie by up to a factor of ten. Some comparisons were drawn with RE:Vision FX's new Twixtor plug-in for After Effects, which is less expensive; ReTimer's distinction is it exposes the actual motion vectors of the pixel fields to the user, allowing you to hand-tweak regions if necessary to sharpen up the end result.

Stitcher is a program for building hi-rez panoramic images. Stitcher requires that the camera is fixed and rotated around the tripod. You just drag and drop the series of captured images and it will stitch them together and also balances the color-it was quite impressive. The final image can be exported to Quicktime VR, spherical and cylindrical maps.

ImageModeler was arguably the most impressive and innovative of REALVIZ's products. Here they can take a series of still photos taken from a variety of angles and generate actual 3D textured models. This then allows you to do a very realistic camera move. Image Modeler uses parallax and perspective of numerous user-defined points to determine what the depth of the object is in order to create the geometry. First it calculates the 3D space, then the geometry and finally it extracts and maps textures. Again, the results were very convincing and all attendees were impressed.

REALVIZ offered a 20% discount (a significant savings) that night only for the meeting's attendees. In addition, they supplied a copy of ImageModeler for out raffle - thanks very much! Pricing varies on file formats and bundling, but in general, MatchMover v1.1 is $5000, ReTimer v2.01 is $3500, Stitcher v1.5 is $800.00, and ImageModeler v2.0 is $5000.

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Next up Brendan Bolles from Toolfarm dropped in to give us an energetic look at Maya PaintFX, a $495.00 plug in for Adobe After Effects. MGLA members had a preview of PaintFX within Maya when Maya was shown at our meeting earlier in the year. The Paint Effects plug-in they previewed then is now available from Toolfarm. PaintFX for AE is available as only an electronic download (which has caused some issues with licensing and moving between machines); Toolfarm is the exclusive distributor (and is helping work through these installation issues).

Brendan explained that PaintFX is an algorithmic painting tool with some surprising features. For example, you can paint a brush that created a series of flowers which grow from stem to leaf to flower. And after they're painted that can actually move as if blown by a breeze. PaintFX brushes (algorithms) can be exchanged between Maya and AE.

Brendan also mentioned Toolfarm's After Effect Demo CD, a CD-ROM that gives you descriptions and examples of every AE plug in known to man. For more information check out their site. We also thank Toolfarm for donating a copy of PaintFX for our giveaway!

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Our next presenter, co-host Chris Meyer explained that, even though his background is in audio, in 3+ years of doing MGLA he has never shown a tip involving audio. Tonight that changed, as he ran through some techniques for editing stock music libraries to hit the running length you need.

Before Chris started, one of our other co-hosts, Dan Warvi of Fox Family, explained that he had long been a fan of the VideoHelper stock music library. In addition to having a lot of freshness and attitude (and good customer responsiveness), they allow their music to be previewed and even downloaded from their web site. VideoHelper provided the libraries Chris used for his demo, and donated their Noise Generator SFX library for our door prizes.

Chris explained that stock music is rarely the length you need it to be. But fortunately much stock music is arranged into three chunks, much like a symphony (introduction, slow middle section, and high-energy ending that repeats themes in the intro), allowing you to re-arrange the music to fit your needs. Chris then showed us just how he does that from within After Effects.

He starts by marking the start to key sections of the music. He explained that the AE hot keys (period) and (asterisk) allow you to easily start the music and drop markers in realtime. You can then name the markers by double-clicking. Hitting LL reveals the waveform of the audio; he then drags the markers to exactly line up with the nearest drum hits and peaks he was trying to identify.

You then define sections of the music, and move them around and/or duplicate them to get the music to fit your scene. Chris noted that if you leave the start and end of the music alone you can get away with a lot of mixing up of the middle and still create a coherent audio track.

While butt-splicing section of music will occasionally work Chris noted that crossfading was typically a better solution. Unlike normal crossfading, Chris will fade up the second track before the edit, and then fade down the first track after the edit (not really a "cross"). And if crossfading just doesn't work you can mask a transition with a sound effect. He also noted that by adding an ambient effect under a section of music you can make two repeated sections sound surprisingly different.

If you want more information you can check out an article Chris wrote on this very subject online.

Finally, Chris pointed out that there is free version of one of his favorite audio editing applications, Digidesign's ProTools, called ProTools FREE available online.

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Continuing a night of co-host presentations Lucky Westfall came up to dissect a project he and his partner, Peter Lehrack, designed and produced for the San Jose Sharks NHL Hockey team in conjunction with Hornet Animation.

Lucky first explained how he and Peter designed and built a "Shark Submarine" in Electric Image Modeler. The design challenge here was to make a submarine in the shape of a shark that looked mechanical and real - as opposed to a bad model of a real shark. To achieve that effect the used various angled bevels and rounding techniques to create a convincing model.

Lucky then discussed how they tended to design long camera moves whenever they were doing a project in 3D. They wanted to break that habit with this job as it need to be very fast and exciting. In addition, the consciously tried to avoid making the scene too "real looking" as they wanted to use blown-out and intense colors to add to the excitement.

To create the water in the scene they used a combination on Atomic Power's Psunami for After Effects and Image2Mesh, a free plug-in for Electric Image from Oblicard. The grayscale map from Psunami in AE was exported as an Image file and used to create an animated mesh via Image2Mesh. Lucky also noted that Psunami is available as a plug-in for Electric Image from Northern Lights allowing you to create water directly within EI.

By matching camera angles and focal length between EI and Psunami in AE they were able to add surface water in AE to scenes rendered as layers in EI. This made things much more flexible.

If you happen to be in San Jose soon, you can see the finished project before any San Jose Shark home game.

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We ran out of time to show demo reels (and promise to save extra time in December for them). But we more than made up for it with over $8000 of goodies to give away for door prizes, including:

* REALVIZ ImageModeler <http://www.realviz.com>

* VideoHelper Noise Generator SFX library <http://www.videohelper.com>

* Boris Effects for AE (donated by ProMax, who also sponsored the overall meeting <http://www.promax.com>)

* Maya PaintFX for AE (donated by Toolfarm <http://www.toolfarm.com>

* 2 Digital Vision Autograph Series stock image CDs <http://www.digitalvisionmotion.com>

* 2 VCE Pyromania CDs <http://www.vce.com>

Thanks to everyone for their generosity!!!

Trish, Chris, Lucky, and Dan
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